It was perhaps a little too much for the Houston Astros to hope for that Lucas Harrell would provide a consistent presence early in the 2013 season for the rebuilding team after a surprisingly effective first full season in the big leagues.
For now, the starting pitching will go with the ups and downs that the teams will face, and Sunday was one of those downs. Once again, Harrell was not helped out all that much by his teammates; only this time, he didn’t do much on the mound to help himself either.
The key to the righty’s game isn’t much of a secret: to succeed, he has to get ground balls and keep the ball around the plate enough to make that happen.
He didn’t do that enough on this day, handing out five free passes en route to an eight-run beating at the hands of the Oakland Athletics in a 9-3 loss. Sure, the seven hits and three homers scattered in-between were the main culprit for the damage, but it was Harrell’s command that really exposed the weakness of his stuff.
The righty put himself in bad situations throughout his start, with three of his runs scored by runners which had been put on via walks. Not being about to throw his two-seam fastball where he wanted obviously hurt Harrell, and forcing it in the zone only led to all three homers being hit off the pitch.
As far as growing pains go, this was a pretty big one, as the eight runs follows a nine-run outing from last May as the second-most that the 27-year old has given up in his career.
That said, considering that he’d stayed in the game though five innings in that instance as opposed to being chased after 112 pitches over 4.1 innings as he did on Sunday, you could make a pretty good argument that this was the worst start of his career (even if game score of 14 would suggest that it’s only his second-worst outing … not that it’s much consolation).
Was it a sign of things to come, or just another bump in the road? Now that he’s gotten a disaster like this out of the way early in the season, however, it’s how Harrell responds in his next start that will be key for the Astros.